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Unwitting Propaganda and Islam vs. Human Rights

 
burt
 
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burt
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22 March 2019 17:44
 
icehorse - 22 March 2019 04:18 PM
burt - 22 March 2019 04:03 PM
icehorse - 22 March 2019 03:20 PM

Hey burt,

Well it’s a bit of a tangent, but perhaps it’s a useful one. I’ve added a link to a 5-minute video. This guy, Bill Warner, is a huge critic of Islam. He’s biased. But in this video, he’s making over 500 factual claims. So, love him or hate him, the 500 claims should stand on their own merit. And maybe he’s a bit off. Maybe you could do a bunch of research and conclude that 50 of the 500 battles he listed should be discounted. That doesn’t void the larger point.

The summary is that the Crusades were a tiny, tiny counter-offensive after 400 years of violent Islamic expansion and conquest.

500 battles before the Crusades

He’s more than a bit biased.

First off, he sets it up as Islam against classic civilization. In 600ad classic civilization was gone, kaput, done in by the Goths, Visagoths, Huns, etc. (did you know that Attila is a Hungarian folk hero?). So when Islam started expanding the only remaining bastion of classic civilization was the Byzantine empire, which was decadent. This is not to deny the Islamic expansion, they were empire building and expanding into easily captured territory (as all empire builders have done, although he’s wrong about Ottoman sultans), but the crusades were not Europe pushing back, they were religious, to recapture the Christian holy lands. He has no real understanding, only his fixated biases. My reading, of course.

Well can we try to reduce this discussion of the Crusades down to the basics? Is it wrong to say that the Crusades were initiated in order to reclaim land from the Muslims that they had taken from the Christians?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that we’re all living on captured land. Everyone has always taken other people’s land, Islam is not unique in that way. But the point is that western guilt over the Crusades seems misplaced, and Islamic resentment over the Crusades seems equally misplaced.

I don’t encounter Western guilt over the crusades, I only mentioned them to say what many Arabs in the Middle East believe. Yes they were intended to recapture land conquered by the Muslim expansion (earlier conquered by the Romans, Greeks, Persians, and so on, a long history). The specific selling point, however, was that this was “holy land.” And I agree, any Arab resentment over the crusades is also misplaced.

 
icehorse
 
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icehorse
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22 March 2019 18:27
 
burt - 22 March 2019 05:44 PM
icehorse - 22 March 2019 04:18 PM
burt - 22 March 2019 04:03 PM
icehorse - 22 March 2019 03:20 PM

Hey burt,

Well it’s a bit of a tangent, but perhaps it’s a useful one. I’ve added a link to a 5-minute video. This guy, Bill Warner, is a huge critic of Islam. He’s biased. But in this video, he’s making over 500 factual claims. So, love him or hate him, the 500 claims should stand on their own merit. And maybe he’s a bit off. Maybe you could do a bunch of research and conclude that 50 of the 500 battles he listed should be discounted. That doesn’t void the larger point.

The summary is that the Crusades were a tiny, tiny counter-offensive after 400 years of violent Islamic expansion and conquest.

500 battles before the Crusades

He’s more than a bit biased.

First off, he sets it up as Islam against classic civilization. In 600ad classic civilization was gone, kaput, done in by the Goths, Visagoths, Huns, etc. (did you know that Attila is a Hungarian folk hero?). So when Islam started expanding the only remaining bastion of classic civilization was the Byzantine empire, which was decadent. This is not to deny the Islamic expansion, they were empire building and expanding into easily captured territory (as all empire builders have done, although he’s wrong about Ottoman sultans), but the crusades were not Europe pushing back, they were religious, to recapture the Christian holy lands. He has no real understanding, only his fixated biases. My reading, of course.

Well can we try to reduce this discussion of the Crusades down to the basics? Is it wrong to say that the Crusades were initiated in order to reclaim land from the Muslims that they had taken from the Christians?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that we’re all living on captured land. Everyone has always taken other people’s land, Islam is not unique in that way. But the point is that western guilt over the Crusades seems misplaced, and Islamic resentment over the Crusades seems equally misplaced.

I don’t encounter Western guilt over the crusades, I only mentioned them to say what many Arabs in the Middle East believe. Yes they were intended to recapture land conquered by the Muslim expansion (earlier conquered by the Romans, Greeks, Persians, and so on, a long history). The specific selling point, however, was that this was “holy land.” And I agree, any Arab resentment over the crusades is also misplaced.

thumbs up

 
 
no_profundia
 
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no_profundia
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22 March 2019 18:47
 

I would say that I’ve read and watched apologetic histories of Islam. For example I’ve read Karen Armstrong’s biography of Muhammad.

I am not talking about apologetic histories of Islam. I am talking about scholarly histories of Islam. Having an objective and complex view of Islam does not make you an apologist for Islam. There are authors like Karen Armstrong who I think are actively trying to present a watered down version of Islam or who are attempting to rescue what they take to be the genuine mystical/peaceloving core of Islam from the fundamentalists. That is okay if it is conceived as an aspirational project - a delineation of what Islam should be - but fundamentalism is a genuine part of the history of Islam. A history that denies that I think would also be too simplistic. A genuine scholarly view of Islam would not shy away from the dark side of Islam but would attempt to present Islam in all of its complexity.

I just happen to be reading What Is Islam? by Shahab Ahmed. I am not very far yet but I think it is pretty close to being what I envisioned as a serious scholarly book on Islam. I would recommend it.

I’m okay with your definition. And I’m happy to agree that I’m biased towards Universal Human Rights. I think I’ve been clear on that point correct?

You are not only biased towards universal human rights but you are biased against Muslims and it is the latter I take issue with. Imagine I were to come on these forums and say “African Americans are lazy” and you were to respond by telling me that I was spreading biased propaganda and my response was “Yes, I admit I am biased in favor of hard work.” Hopefully you would let me know I missed the point by a mile.

That said, such softening would seem to strengthen the case for a reformed Islam.

I am all for a reformed Islam. It did not seem to me that your post was pointing in the direction of a reformed Islam. It seemed to me your post was suggesting that a reformed Islam is not possible since Islam is at heart a totalitarian ideology totally at odds with universal human rights.

The hard sciences, public policy, social studies, psychology, and anthropology - among many disciplines - all rely heavily on statistics. We must make models to understand the world. All models are simplifications. So it seems that what you really need to demonstrate is whether the claims I’ve made are too simplistic, or reasonably simplistic. It seems to me - if you look at how religions and human rights are ebbing and flowing around the globe - it’s a very fair general conclusion that Islam is intolerant. Of course there will be isolated counter examples. But again, if we’re disciplined, we need to rely on stats.

This is the quote that I find way too simplistic (and inaccurate):

The central ideas in Islam have survived, largely unchanged, for 1400 years. These ideas include: supremacism, misogyny, anti-semitism, theocratic rule, homophobia, and a lack of freedom of religion. In short, Islam is not a religion, it is a dangerous totalitarian ideology that happens to have a religious facet. Islam flies in the face of modern human rights and secularism.

This is not simply a matter of statistics or the necessary simplifications that result from model building. No doubt if you took a survey of Muslims 100 percent of them would agree the sun is hot. That does not mean that “belief in a hot sun” is one of the central ideas of Islam. So it is too simplistic to say “Lots of Muslims believe X, therefore, X is a central idea of Islam.” Islam is not one thing. It is not “tolerant” or “intolerant.” It is not “totalitarian” or “democratic.” Islam is a complex phenomenon that interacts in complex ways with other aspects of politics and culture. An adequate model of Islam cannot be built by pulling a few random quotes from the Koran that you find objectionable and tying them to some answers to surveys that you find objectionable and claiming the image you get as a result constitutes the central ideas of Islam.

A model of Islam requires what in anthropology is known as thick description. It requires more than knowing what answer a bunch of Muslims gave to a multiple choice quiz. It requires more than drawing broad correlations. It requires an understanding of the interaction and feedback loops among lots of variables. It requires understanding what the practices and beliefs of Islam mean to actual believers. It requires understanding the hermeneutic and interpretive traditions of Islam and how they have attempted to make sense of the ambiguous and often contradictory text of the Koran. It requires understanding how those interpretive traditions filtered down into the practices and beliefs of everyday Muslims and how everyday Muslims integrated mores and social customs from their local cultures with their religious beliefs (as burt has pointed out). It requires understanding the history of Islamic societies and the various internal and external forces that have driven it and impacted it.

It also means being clear about what question we are trying to answer. Our question might be: Are some large scale reforms necessary in the Muslim world if political systems that are consistent with universal human rights are going to come into being in the Muslim world? If that is our question I think the answer is obviously yes. We might also ask: Is there some essence to Islam that is fundamentally at odds with universal human rights that would make it impossible for Muslims to adapt to new contexts? I think the answer to that question is pretty obviously no.

Given those requirements I don’t think your view of Islam, to the degree that I have been able to glean it from this post and a few others (I have not read every thread on the topic that you have contributed to), is reasonably simplistic. I think it is too simplistic. I think you are pulling little pieces from a lot of places, a statistic here, a quote from the Koran there, a five minute video on the Islamic conquests, and trying to construct an image of Islam from those little bits and pieces.

I would not characterize that method as “disciplined.” I think it is haphazard and especially prone to selective bias. And I hope my frankness will not be taken as rude. I believe you have good intentions. There was a poster on these forums a while ago who was very anti-Muslim and he eventually made a comment about not liking the fact that Muslims dressed weird. It seemed pretty clear to me that poster was largely motivated by the fact that he just didn’t like people with “strange” customs and clothes and different colored skin hanging around him. I do not think that about you. I think you are motivated by a desire to uphold values that you (rightly) cherish.

However, I think your view of Islam is distorted. And by distorted I don’t mean totally false. Imagine that someone showed me a painting and I decided to cut a bunch of random holes in a piece of paper and hold it in front of the painting while viewing it so all I saw was what could be seen through the holes. My view of the painting would be distorted even though what I did see was really part of the painting. Just because you can point to certain “facts”, even if they really are facts, does not mean that you have integrated them into an accurate view of the whole.

[ Edited: 22 March 2019 19:18 by no_profundia]
 
 
icehorse
 
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icehorse
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22 March 2019 19:51
 

no-pro:

Having an objective and complex view of Islam does not make you an apologist for Islam.

I could not agree more.

no-pro:

I just happen to be reading What Is Islam? by Shahab Ahmed. I am not very far yet but I think it is pretty close to being what I envisioned as a serious scholarly book on Islam. I would recommend it.

What are the characteristics of “scholarly books” vs. “non-scholarly books” in the same domain?

no-pro:

You are not only biased towards universal human rights but you are biased against Muslims

Well of course you’re first mistake is that - no matter how many times I say it - what I take issue with is most of the core ideas of Islam. Second, how much huffing and puffing does a person have to do in order to be granted the right to have an opinion? Yup, I have an opinion about the ideas in Islam.

no-pro:

It did not seem to me that your post was pointing in the direction of a reformed Islam

Perhaps I should point that out. But in fact, ALL of my posts related to Islam are to encourage a reformed Islam. I have applauded the Muslim Reform Movement many times on this forum. I don’t think their goals are perfect, but I think they are a huge step in the right direction.

no-pro:

A model of Islam requires what in anthropology is known as thick description. It requires more than knowing what answer a bunch of Muslims gave to a multiple choice quiz. It requires more than drawing broad correlations. It requires an understanding of the interaction and feedback loops among lots of variables. It requires understanding what the practices and beliefs of Islam mean to actual believers. It requires understanding the hermeneutic and interpretive traditions of Islam and how they have attempted to make sense of the ambiguous and often contradictory text of the Koran. It requires understanding how those interpretive traditions filtered down into the practices and beliefs of everyday Muslims and how everyday Muslims integrated mores and social customs from their local cultures with their religious beliefs (as burt has pointed out). It requires understanding the history of Islamic societies and the various internal and external forces that have driven it and impacted it.

I would have no quarrels with anyone who was pursing those lines of inquiry! They seem valid to me.

But there are many lines of inquiry a person can take when studying complex systems. One doesn’t have to be knowledgeable in all aspects to be knowledge concerning a few facets.

no-pro:

It also means being clear about what question we are trying to answer. Our question might be: Are some large scale reforms necessary in the Muslim world if political systems that are consistent with universal human rights are going to come into being in the Muslim world? If that is our question I think the answer is obviously yes. We might also ask: Is there some essence to Islam that is fundamentally at odds with universal human rights that would make it impossible for Muslims to adapt to new contexts? I think the answer to that question is pretty obviously no.

agreed on the first. i feel the second is poorly worded and ambiguous.

no-pro:

Given those requirements I don’t think your view of Islam, to the degree that I have been able to glean it from this post and a few others (I have not read every thread on the topic that you have contributed to), is reasonably simplistic. I think it is too simplistic. I think you are pulling little pieces from a lot of places, a statistic here, a quote from the Koran there, a five minute video on the Islamic conquests, and trying to construct an image of Islam from those little bits and pieces.

As you recall, a lot of what goes into research in general is gleaning, and pulling, and collating, and synthesizing and so on. And I really strive to find decent data to support my conclusions. This isn’t my job. I don’t have a grant. I don’t have 3,000 spare hours to devote to writing a well researched book on Islam.

But by God man! We can think for ourselves! We can collect facts and look for refutations! We can draw conclusions, find metaphors, assemble models! Search engines give us instant access to more information on any given topic, than Nobel Prize winners had access to as recently as probably 30 years ago. We can watch hours and hours of debates with arguably(ha!), some of the top minds defending Islam. We’re now able to browse by far the largest library the world has ever seen, and pick and choose the books, articles, and posts we read.We don’t need to accept whatever party lines are offered to us.

no-pro:

However, I think your view of Islam is distorted. And by distorted I don’t mean totally false. Imagine that someone showed me a painting and I decided to cut a bunch of random holes in a piece of paper and hold it in front of the painting while viewing it so all I saw was what could be seen through the holes. My view of the painting would be distorted even though what I did see was really part of the painting. Just because you can point to certain “facts”, even if they really are facts, does not mean that you have integrated them into an accurate view of the whole.

More or less a retread of your earlier thoughts as to my qualifications, correct?

 
 
no_profundia
 
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no_profundia
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22 March 2019 21:47
 

What are the characteristics of “scholarly books” vs. “non-scholarly books” in the same domain?

Well, it is somewhat subjective but when I am looking for scholarly books I tend to look for books that are written by people who have devoted their lives to studying the subject. If they teach at a university and their books are favorably reviewed by other scholars that helps. I think there is generally a difference in tone between scholarly and non-scholarly books. The presence of footnotes, etc.

Well of course you’re first mistake is that - no matter how many times I say it - what I take issue with is most of the core ideas of Islam. Second, how much huffing and puffing does a person have to do in order to be granted the right to have an opinion? Yup, I have an opinion about the ideas in Islam.

Fine, rephrase what I said as a bias against Islam rather than Muslims. The point is, I don’t think what you take to be the “core ideas of Islam” is based on an objective analysis of Islam. I think your view of what constitutes the “core ideas of Islam” is based on a prior bias you have against Islam that leads you to select “core ideas” that support your view that Islam is defined by misogyny, totalitarianism, homophobia, etc. The bias I am criticizing is not your bias against those “core ideas” but the bias that leads you to select certain ideas as “core” and dismiss or ignore others as “isolated counter examples.”

I don’t think an accurate view of Islam would divide things up into a “core” and “isolated counter examples” like this. And this applies to those who would defend Islam as well. People who defend Islam will often try to define a “core” of Islam based on peace, helping orphans, or whatever, and claim that fundamentalists represent “isolated counter examples.” But fundamentalism, misogyny and homophobia are undeniably a part of Islam in all of its historical complexity. Denying that is a mistake just as elevating them to the “core” of Islam is a mistake. I don’t think that there is a “core” of Islam. Islam interacts in complex ways with its context, historical circumstances, geopolitics, and so on.

I think an objective view would accept all of the contradictory expressions, behaviors, beliefs, etc. that define themselves as Islamic, try to understand how they fit together, how they are shaped by their context, how they in turn shape their context, and so on. That is what I think the book by Ahmed does well. He starts with a bunch of contradictions: like the legalistic prohibition on wine and the celebration of wine drinking among Sufi poets and Muslim rulers, and rather than defining one as the “core” and dismissing the rest as not really a part of Islam, he attempts to reach an integrated view of Islam as it actually exists, including its contradictions.

Any view that attempts to select certain facts and define them as the “core” I think is almost guaranteed to be biased. Hopefully that clarifies what I meant when I said I think you are biased against Islam.

But there are many lines of inquiry a person can take when studying complex systems. One doesn’t have to be knowledgeable in all aspects to be knowledge concerning a few facets.

Yes, there are lots of lines of inquiry one can take. Not all of them are valid. I don’t think a line of inquiry that focuses on a few random statistics is going to produce anything resembling a valid view of the phenomenon under consideration. The PEW data is interesting and illuminating in many ways but anyone who attempted to reconstruct Islam from that data alone would wind up with an extremely bizarre and distorted view. If aliens had nothing to go on but the PEW data, and attempted to reconstruct Islam from it alone, they would not wind up with anything resembling Islam as it actually exists. Is favoring the Democratic over the Republican party a core part of Islam?

There is a kind of fetishization of data and statistics on this forum sometimes that I am not entirely comfortable with. As if all that was necessary to be “objective” was to have some data. Data can answer some questions and it can’t answer others. Data can tell you how many Muslims answer yes to the question “Would you like to live under Sharia law?” but data can’t tell you what sharia law is or means to those Muslims. Data can tell you how many Muslim countries live under authoritarian governments but it cannot tell you what the complex historical factors are that led to those authoritarian regimes.

As you recall, a lot of what goes into research in general is gleaning, and pulling, and collating, and synthesizing and so on. And I really strive to find decent data to support my conclusions. This isn’t my job. I don’t have a grant. I don’t have 3,000 spare hours to devote to writing a well researched book on Islam.

To be clear, I don’t expect you to spend 3,000 hours studying Islam. I don’t spend that kind of time studying Islam (or any topic). My objection is simply that it seems to me you select certain facts and then make very broad and general statements about Islam based on a few isolated pieces of data. Like your claim that Islam is not really a religion but is a totalitarian ideology.

More or less a retread of your earlier thoughts as to my qualifications, correct?

You misunderstand me if you think I am attacking your “qualifications.” I have no qualifications to speak expertly on Islam so that would be the pot calling the kettle black. What I object to is what I take to be your selectivity. Perhaps another analogy will help: Imagine that there is a figure built out of legos and I ask you to describe the lego figure. You go through, grab all the red pieces from the figure, fashion them into your own figure and then describe that. But that is not a description of the original figure.

I think you do something analogous with Islam. I think you are essentially picking out all the red pieces and fashioning an image of the “core” of Islam out of those pieces. As I said above, I think the Ahmed book does a pretty good job of just describing the lego figure, i.e. it does not pick out all the red pieces and make a figure out of them and substitute that for the actual figure. It accepts that there are red and blue pieces and attempts to describe how those pieces fit together, how they relate to each other, how they came to be, and so on.

 
 
icehorse
 
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23 March 2019 08:23
 

no-pro:

I don’t think what you take to be the “core ideas of Islam” is based on an objective analysis of Islam.

When I say the “core ideas”, I’m relying on what any Muslims will tell you:

1 - The Quran is the perfect, timeless word of god
2 - Muhammad was god’s messenger, and he is the perfect role model.

Is it your contention that Muslims don’t really believe those two things? Much of my thinking about Islam is based on the idea that I should take Muslims at their word, and these two ideas are central to Islam. In other words, if you claim to be a Muslim, but you don’t believe these two ideas, you’re being disingenuous.

My next claim is that BOTH the Quran and Muhammad’s life are in opposition to human rights and secularism. Not a big leap I’d say. For this post I’ll add one more point of data. Half the world’s Muslims say their 5-times-a-day prayer. The last line of that prayer says - more or less: “Allah is forever angry at the Christians and the Jews”. This phrase is uttered 4 BILLION times a day, every day. If your goal is to promote us-them, tribalistic thinking, this is a fantastic bit of applied cognitive science and indoctrination.

Does it take a lifetime of study to arrive at these conclusions?

 
 
Jan_CAN
 
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Jan_CAN
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23 March 2019 09:20
 

It is contradictory to claim support of Universal Human Rights while promoting inhibition of one of the most basic of these—the “right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.  Secularism is the separation of church-and-state and pertains to the law of the land.  These are not incompatible as the freedom of religion does not negate everyone’s requirement to obey secular laws.

 
 
no_profundia
 
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23 March 2019 09:51
 

When I say the “core ideas”, I’m relying on what any Muslims will tell you:

1 - The Quran is the perfect, timeless word of god
2 - Muhammad was god’s messenger, and he is the perfect role model.

Is it your contention that Muslims don’t really believe those two things?

Of course not. These were not the “central ideas” you listed in your first post which were: “supremacism, misogyny, anti-semitism, theocratic rule, homophobia, and a lack of freedom of religion.” You claimed that Islam was not a religion but a totalitarian ideology. These two beliefs seem like religious claims to me, and what is more important, they leave a lot of room for differing interpretations.

My next claim is that BOTH the Quran and Muhammad’s life are in opposition to human rights and secularism.

This depends on how you interpret the Quran and Muhammad’s life. I have more to say about this below, and I don’t want to repeat myself, so I will just move to the next point.

For this post I’ll add one more point of data.

I am claiming that you are just picking and choosing data points - red pieces in my lego analogy - and here you are just showing me another red piece that you have picked. I am not claiming these red pieces do not exist. I am claiming that by only selecting these red pieces and constructing your image of Islam out of nothing but red pieces you wind up with a distorted view of Islam. So showing me one more red piece that you have picked does not address the issues I have raised.

The last line of that prayer says - more or less: “Allah is forever angry at the Christians and the Jews”.

I am assuming you are referring to this line from the first surah of the Quran:

Guide us upon the straight path,
the path of those whom Thou hast blessed,
not of those who incur wrath,
nor of those who are astray

I can’t find any translation of that verse - or any Islamic daily prayer - that makes explicit mention of Jews or Christians. If you have one can you provide it? It is true that it has been interpreted that way but that is not its only interpretation. It is not the only way it has been interpreted in the past and it is not the only way it can be interpreted. There is a lot of room left open for interpretation which allows Islam to change based on context.

I agree with Scott Atran that many religious claims are not ordinary truth-conditional claims. Atran has done studies where he asks people to paraphrase the 10 commandments, then have someone else paraphrase the paraphrase, or paraphrase various religious sayings, and the results show that there is little consensus about what such religious sayings mean. Rather, people infer their meaning based on a wide range of cultural meanings.

In other words, religious sayings get interpreted in terms of the broader cultural context. The meaning of those last two lines is much more likely to be interpreted in terms of a conflict with Jews by Muslims living in Palestine than Muslims in the United States. This is what I am getting at when I say there are no “core ideas” of Islam. Even your two ideas above, that the Quran is the holy book of God and Muhammed is the perfect role model, leave tons of room for varying interpretations based on cultural context.

Religions are designed to be this way I think. I don’t think they would survive if they weren’t. They would die with changing contexts if they were not flexible like this. They are not infinitely flexible but they are much more flexible than I think you are suggesting when you claim, tout court, that the Quran and the life of Muhammad are in opposition to human rights.

[ Edited: 23 March 2019 09:53 by no_profundia]
 
 
icehorse
 
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23 March 2019 09:53
 
Jan_CAN - 23 March 2019 09:20 AM

It is contradictory to claim support of Universal Human Rights while promoting inhibition of one of the most basic of these—the “right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.  Secularism is the separation of church-and-state and pertains to the law of the land.  These are not incompatible as the freedom of religion does not negate everyone’s requirement to obey secular laws.

But sadly, Islam is a political system with a religious facet. Islam, by it’s nature, co-mingles church and state, Sharia being the most obvious example.

 
 
icehorse
 
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23 March 2019 10:13
 

no-pro:

Of course not. These were not the “central ideas” you listed in your first post which were: “supremacism, misogyny, anti-semitism, theocratic rule, homophobia, and a lack of freedom of religion.” You claimed that Islam was not a religion but a totalitarian ideology. These two beliefs seem like religious claims to me, and what is more important, they leave a lot of room for differing interpretations.

It’s good to clear this up. The two central ideas I just listed are what allows me to conclude that Islam has the negative characteristics you listed above. In other words, if we take Muslims at their word on the two ideas of the Quran and Muhammad, we can easily derive things like supremacism, misogyny and so on.

no-pro:

I can’t find any translation of that verse - or any Islamic daily prayer - that makes explicit mention of Jews or Christians. If you have one can you provide it?

Well first off, these dots are connected later in the book. But more to the point, the translation that’s been reprinted more than any other translation - over 260 million copies - is the one I’m referring to. It’s the Hilali and Khan translation.

no-pro:

In other words, religious sayings get interpreted in terms of the broader cultural context. The meaning of those last two lines is much more likely to be interpreted in terms of a conflict with Jews by Muslims living in Palestine than Muslims in the United States. This is what I am getting at when I say there are no “core ideas” of Islam. Even your two ideas above, that the Quran is the holy book of God and Muhammed is the perfect role model, leave tons of room for varying interpretations based on cultural context.

Religions are designed to be this way I think. I don’t think they would survive if they weren’t. They would die with changing contexts if they were not flexible like this. They are not infinitely flexible but they are much more flexible than I think you are suggesting when you claim, tout court, that the Quran and the life of Muhammad are in opposition to human rights.

I think this is a fine perspective for scholars to take. The problem I see with this perspective is that it ignores the latest findings in learning theory and cognitive science. This scholarly perspective assumes that - in this case - 1.8 billion Muslims are scholars. This is clearly not the case.

What’s far closer to the truth is that the vast majority of Muslims are exposed to the Quran and Muhammad’s biography in informal, ad hoc, and repetitious ways. The 5-times-a-day prayer is a good example of this. A simple, parsimonious reading of the Quran is another. If you flip randomly through the Quran and read a few verses here and there, you will never be far from a verse that criticizes non-Muslims. Any cognitive scientist will tell you that human brains (not scholarly minds, but human brains), WILL see patterns in the book. And at best, cognitive scientists will tell you that reading this book will create massive internal struggles between the mind and the brain. Even for scholars.

(To be clear, when I say brain, I mean the 3 pounds of meat that has evolved over millions of years. The pattern matching, tiger-avoiding, often amygdala-driven brain. The brain that knows how to walk and and throw and catch a ball. The brain whose inner workings the conscious mind is not in control of. The mind is what we think of as our consciousness. The mind thinks it’s in control, but almost always it is not. Scholars value their minds and are mostly ignorant of how little control their minds have over their brains.)

no-pro:

In other words, religious sayings get interpreted in terms of the broader cultural context.

True to some degree, but again this perspective is mostly “mind based” and fails to account for how brains work.

 
 
no_profundia
 
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23 March 2019 11:16
 

In other words, if we take Muslims at their word on the two ideas of the Quran and Muhammad, we can easily derive things like supremacism, misogyny and so on.

This is a problem of method I think. Taking two propositional claims that Muslims agree with, and “deriving” the rest of their beliefs, is not the proper method for understanding a religion. If you want to understand a religion, as it is practiced, the meanings it holds for its believers, and so on, you need empirical studies and thick description.

Your method seems to be:

1. Muslims believe the Quran is the word of God (Sidenote: What does it mean to say the Quran is the word of God? Does it imply infallibility? Can you know that based on that proposition alone or do you need to have some familiarity with how Muslims interpret that statement?)
2. The Quran says X, which I interpret to mean Y
3. We can infer A, B, and C from Y
4. Therefore, Muslims believe A, B, and C

First, if religious claims are not primarily propositional or truth-conditional statements then you can’t make logical inferences to other propositional statements like this. Second, a deductive method like this is not going to produce a rich or accurate interpretation of Islam. Science is not deductive, it is empirical. You are reading the passages of the Quran that you object to in light of your own tradition and cultural context. You cannot infer from your interpretation of various passages that it is what Muslims, who are reading from within a different tradition and cultural context, understand when they read the same passages, and you can’t logically deduce what they believe about other things from your interpretation.

Misogyny, homophobia, theocracy, etc. are a part of the history of Islam because historical communities of Muslims have interpreted passages from the Quran, Hadith, and other religious writings in those terms, not because you can logically deduce those beliefs from a few isolated passages in the Quran.

the translation that’s been reprinted more than any other translation - over 260 million copies - is the one I’m referring to. It’s the Hilali and Khan translation.

I don’t have this translation so can you provide the translation of that passage as it appears in the translation you are using? Does it explicitly mention Jews or Christians?

I think this is a fine perspective for scholars to take. The problem I see with this perspective is that it ignores the latest findings in learning theory and cognitive science. This scholarly perspective assumes that - in this case - 1.8 billion Muslims are scholars. This is clearly not the case.

To clarify, a scholarly analysis of Islam does not need to assume that all 1.8 billion Muslims are scholars. A scholarly view of Islam is not a matter of finding out what scholars think about Islam and then attributing those views to the masses. That would not be a true scholarly analysis of Islam as it actually exists but a reconstruction which accepts the elite view as the norm and discards all the rest. I am arguing that any view of Islam that uses this method - whether it takes fundamentalist views, tolerant views, or scholarly views as normative - is going to distort Islam.

Genuine scholarly studies of Islam do not substitute the views of scholars for the views of the average believer but instead attempt to understand what everyday believers believe and practice. The people who interpreted the 10 commandments or various religous sayings in Atran’s experiments were not religous scholars. They were just ordinary people. Ordinary people infer and interpret the meanings of religious statements in terms of their cultural context. They have to because religious sayings are inherently ambiguous and senseless unless the meaning is filled in from other sources.

Shahab Ahmed explicitly addresses this issue in his book when he cites a scholar who was studying Islam in Afghanistan:

How is the Islamic vision of the world socially produced, reproduced, communicated, and sustained among the peoples of Afghanistan, both literate and urban as well as illiterate and rural? (85)

The author of that study points to the production of “vernacular popular Islamic texts”, the ghazals of Islamic poets that were “sung by the peasants of the local countryside”, the poems of Hafiz which the “beggars of Tabriz” knew hundreds of stanzas of and “which spoke of love, of mystical wine, of May sunshine through windows” (87). The beliefs of everyday Muslims are not derived from simply pulling a few random passages from the Quran but are also derived from everyday practices like this which you can’t learn anything about by pulling random passages from the Quran. If you want to understand Islam you need to understand how texts like the Quran are interpreted within these rich cultural contexts that also involve other beliefs, practices and texts.

If you flip randomly through the Quran and read a few verses here and there, you will never be far from a verse that criticizes non-Muslims. Any cognitive scientist will tell you that human brains (not scholarly minds, but human brains), WILL see patterns in the book.

This is not how Muslims read the Quran - by randomly flipping through the book and reading a few verses here and there. They interpret the Quran in light of an interpretive tradition and cultural context. This is as true of everyday Muslims as it is of scholars. It is true in Christianity as well. The everyday Christian might not be able to describe all of the theological disputes that led to their denominations particular creed but the version of Christianity they get when they sit and listen to their preacher is a result of that history and those disputes and (if they read the Bible at all) they definitely read the Bible in light of that tradition. If you don’t know anything about that tradition - the history of Christianity, its schisms, theological disputes, etc. - you are not going to be able to reach an accurate view of Christianity by “flipping randomly through the Bible and pulling a few verses from here and there” even if you add cognitive science into the mix.

And I feel I need to repeat again: I am not denying that there are ideas expressed in the Quran which, on their face, seem to support misogyny, religious intolerance, and so on, and are in conflict with modern notions of human rights. I am claiming that if you simply pull those passages out, and construct your version of Islam based on just those passages, without understanding the interpretive traditions, the other things Muslims read that influence their interpretations (like religious poetry, etc.), the cultural context, the daily practices, etc. then you are going to wind up with a one-sided and inaccurate view of Islam.

And you can’t “deduce” or “derive” all of those everyday practices from a few passages of the Quran. You need to study them empirically.

True to some degree, but again this perspective is mostly “mind based” and fails to account for how brains work.

I don’t think there is any distinction between the mind and the brain but I also don’t think my perspective fails to account for how brains work. There is nothing in neuroscience or cognitive science that I am aware of that would in anyway conflict with the notion that human beings interpret ambiguous religious texts in terms of their cultural context (which also involves repetitions). Atran’s interpretation of religion is based heavily on cognitive science.

 
 
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23 March 2019 13:49
 

no-pro:

This is a problem of method I think. Taking two propositional claims that Muslims agree with, and “deriving” the rest of their beliefs, is not the proper method for understanding a religion. If you want to understand a religion, as it is practiced, the meanings it holds for its believers, and so on, you need empirical studies and thick description.

I’ve already granted you that the approach you’re promoting is a fine way to understand a religion. My point is that it’s not the only way.

I think we might have to end here because much of my analysis comes from the perspective of learning theory and cognitive science and from those domains we learn that we MUST distinguish between the mind and the brain. Your arguments are all “mind based” and that’s the prevalent orientation. But recently cognitive science and learning theory have converged on the idea that the brain is USUALLY operating independently of the mind. Being the conscious beings that we are, we like to think that “we” i.e. “our minds” are in control. But the truth is that most of the time, what we do is what our brain wants us to do, in spite of what our mind might want to do.

no-pro:

I don’t have this translation so can you provide the translation of that passage as it appears in the translation you are using? Does it explicitly mention Jews or Christians?

I’ve attached a screen shot of Surah-1. In this version, the Christians and the Jews are mentioned parenthetically. But as I said, the rest of the book makes it abundantly clear who exactly has “gone astray” and who exactly god is angry with.

no-pro:

This is not how Muslims read the Quran - by randomly flipping through the book and reading a few verses here and there.

When Muslims go to their mosque, it’s quite normal for the Imam to read passages from the Quran. To the listener, this is almost identical to randomly flipping through the book.

 

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23 March 2019 16:05
 

I’ve already granted you that the approach you’re promoting is a fine way to understand a religion. My point is that it’s not the only way.

I think it is the only valid way. If you want to understand a phenomenon like Islam you have to study it empirically. Otherwise, you are just constructing a Platonic Idea of Islam that may have little or no relation to reality. If you want to construct such an Idea of Islam you can but then you can’t claim that your statements about Islam have any relation to the real world. You can then claim “Islam is not a religion but a totalitarian ideology” as long as you add the caveat “And what I mean by Islam does not necessarily have any relation to Islam as it exists in the real world that we all live in.” That is a heavy price to pay.

I think we might have to end here because much of my analysis comes from the perspective of learning theory and cognitive science and from those domains we learn that we MUST distinguish between the mind and the brain.

We can certainly end here if you’d like but I am curious, are you claiming that cognitive science is based on a dualism between the mind and the brain? I suspect what you are getting at is a distinction between the processes in our brain responsible for cognitive functions like liniguistic reasoning, logic, mathematics, conscious awareness and other regions of our brain that are unconsciously influenced through repetition, emotion, cognitive biases, and so on.

I agree that our reasoning is influenced by parts of the brain that are below conscious reasoning and awareness - in fact, that is one of the arguments I am making on this thread, since largely unconscious cultural meanings influence our conscious interpretation of texts - but I would say this is just one part of the brain influencing another. Not the “brain” influencing the “mind”.

Your arguments are all “mind based”

I don’t think they are. In fact, one of the issues I have with your view of Islam is that it is too “mind based” - if I am understanding correctly what you mean by that. You are basing your view of Islam purely on conscious, linguistic, propositional beliefs (the Quran is the word of God, etc.). Any accurate portrait of Islam will need to incorporate bodily rituals like prostration and fasting, practices like singing poetry, moral behaviors, as well as all the unconscious cultural “knowledge” that informs any conscious interpretation of a text like the Quran. You seem to me to be denying the importance of all of this when interpreting the Quran as if the meaning was totally transparent.

I’ve attached a screen shot of Surah-1. In this version, the Christians and the Jews are mentioned parenthetically. But as I said, the rest of the book makes it abundantly clear who exactly has “gone astray” and who exactly god is angry with.

Does anyone reading this thread know enough Arabic to know whether the Arabic words for Jews or Christians appear in this passage? I tried to do a quick search and I don’t think they do. I am curious now.

When you say the rest of the book makes it clear who has earned God’s wrath I assume you are referring to Jews and Christians? I don’t think the rest of the book makes it abundantly clear that this is how to interpret who has earned God’s wrath at all. I think this is another example of you selectively remembering passages that confirm your interpretation and totally ignoring passages that offer different interpretations or contradict your own.

My version of the Quran has a lengthy footnote on this passage that offers a number of ways this passage has been interpreted. It mentions that one interpretation does interpret those who have earned God’s wrath as Christians and Jews and refers to a number of passages in the Quran that are used to support that interpretation.

Here is one of them (I just picked the first one listed):

“And when Moses sought water for his people, We said, ‘Strike the rock with thy staff.’ Then twelve springs gushed forth from it; each people knew their drinking place. ‘Eat and drink of God’s provision, and behave not wickedly upon the earth, working corruption.’ And when you said, ‘O Moses, we shall not endure one food, so call upon your Lord for us, that He may bring forth for us some of what the earth grows: its herbs, its cucumbers, its garlic, its lentils, its onions.’ He said, ‘Would you substitute what is lesser for what is better? Go down to a town and you will have what you ask for.’ So they were struck with abasement and poverty, and earned a burden of wrath from God. That is cause they disbelieved in the signs of God, and killed the prophets without right. That is because they disobeyed, and were transgressors. Truly those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabeans - whosoever believes in God and the Last Day and works righteousness shall have their reward with their Lord. No fear shall come upon them, nor shall they grieve.” (2:60 - 2:61).

This passage does not suggest that Jews and Christians tout court are to be identified as ones who have earned God’s wrath, in fact it states the exact opposite. Rather, those Jews who “substitute what is lesser for what is better” and “disbelieved in the signs of God, and killed the prophets without right” are the ones who have earned God’s wrath. You can find tons of passages in the Hebrew Bible criticizing Jews in terms just like this but the Hebrew Bible is rarely considered anti-Semitic. Islam does have a strain of anti-Semitism and the reason it does is because there have been communities of Muslims who have interpreted passages like the above in anti-Semitic terms. No doubt real historical conflicts with communities of Jews have played a part in producing those interpretations and in their popularity.

This is a good time to point out that when I say that the Quran requires interpretation in terms of cultural context there is no presumption on my part that the cultural context will lead to a more peaceful or tolerant version of Islam. burt pointed out a number of posts ago that practices like female genital mutilation and honor killings were taken over from the cultural context (I believe stoning adulterers was also taken over from Jewish practices and is contradicted in the Hadith and Quran). It is possible that the cultural context will produce a less tolerant version of Islam. The situation in Palestine today likely produces a more anti-Semitic reading of passages like the above.

So, my goal in the above is not to counter an anti-Semitic version of Islam with one that is more favorable towards Jews and claim that the latter is “real Islam”, but, rather, to point out that passages like the above do not interpret themselves, their meaning is not transparent, and how they are interpreted will always be influenced and informed by the cultural context of the person doing the interpreting. Your interpretation of passages like the above is based on your own cultural context - which includes values like religious tolerance, the recent holocaust against the Jews which (rightly) makes you very sensitive to anti-Semitism, terrorist attacks being carried out by Muslims and the rise of political Islam, news stories you read about religious intolerance in Muslim majority countries, and so on. All of this influences how you interpret passages like the above in the Quran. People who have a different cultural context may interpret these passages differently. This is a universally agreed upon principle of hermeneutics.

So, if you want to understand how Muslims interpret the Quran you can’t just read the book, come up with some interpretations that seem right to you, deduce other things that you think follow from those interpretations, and claim that you have derived the “central ideas of Islam.”

One more example. You are right that there are lots of passages in the Quran that are very hostile toward non-believers. But what is a non-believer? Is it someone who does not believe Mohammed received a genuine revelation from God? Someone who does not agree with a particular interpretation of the Quran? Someone who does not belong to a particular sect (Sunni, Shia)? Someone who does not believe in one God? Someone who does not believe in any God? Someone who actively persecutes Muslims? Someone who values worldly things over spiritual things? Someone who outwardly believes but is morally wicked?

There are passages in the Quran which could be used to support many of these interpretations. When you claim that it is “abundantly clear” who the Quran is referring to when it takes about those who have earned God’s wrath you are simply assuming that your own interpretation, based on your own hermeneutic context, is transparent and obvious. Or rather, I think you are denying that hermeneutic context exists or matters at all. This is what I take issue with.

When Muslims go to their mosque, it’s quite normal for the Imam to read passages from the Quran. To the listener, this is almost identical to randomly flipping through the book.

Yes, and I assume the Imam does not just read the passages without commentary but also offers some commentary based on their religious schooling which is in turn based on the interpretive traditions that have been handed down through the history of Islam? And the listeners make sense of the ambiguous passages that they hear - and the words of the Imam - by drawing on their cultural knowledge, other passages in the Quran, other Islamic texts they have read, discussions they have had with friends and family, and so on?

My point was not that Muslims never hear or read sections of the Quran out of context but that any interpretation of a specific passage is carried out in light of a background that includes cultural meanings, other texts, and so on. It is simply impossible to interpret any text - especially an ambiguous and contradictory one - without drawing on this background.

This is not “mind based” in the sense you mean because it is not necessary for this context to be conscious or cognitive in any traditional sense. As I get older I am sometimes surprised by behaviors that I engage in or ways of thinking that remind me of my parents. My parents never consciously taught me these behaviors or ways of thinking but presumably I learned by watching and imitating them. All of these unspoken things I have picked up from my parents, my peers, my social world, the values I have absorbed through osmosis, certainly influence my cognition, even something as seemingly rarefied as how I interpret a text.

This is why it is necessary to understand all of this background context, to the limited degree that we can, if we want to understand something like Islam.

 
 
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23 March 2019 17:22
 

no-pro:

I think it is the only valid way. If you want to understand a phenomenon like Islam you have to study it empirically.

I think we’re both talking about approaches that use empiricism.

no-pro:

“Islam is not a religion but a totalitarian ideology” as long as you add the caveat “And what I mean by Islam does not necessarily have any relation to Islam as it exists in the real world that we all live in.”

Or I can make that claim based on overwhelming historical and current evidence. Which is how I’m approaching the claim that it’s a totalitarian ideology, based on a metric s#it-ton of evidence. (Which evidence is also completely in keeping with the scripture.)

no-pro:

I agree that our reasoning is influenced by parts of the brain that are below conscious reasoning and awareness - in fact, that is one of the arguments I am making on this thread, since largely unconscious cultural meanings influence our conscious interpretation of texts - but I would say this is just one part of the brain influencing another. Not the “brain” influencing the “mind”.

I gave you my loose definitions of brain and mind for the sake of this discussion. You can call them “foo” and “bar” if you want to. The point is that the “mind” - the part that thinks it’s calling the shots - mostly isn’t calling the shots. Back to the OP, propagandists know this at some level and take advantage of it. Muhammad and his captains were nothing if not brilliant propagandists. As I mentioned earlier, one of the five pillars of Islam is the 5-times-a-day prayer. This is a brilliant bit of indoctrination and propagandist strategy - absolutely brilliant.

As for cultural influences and the like - yes I agree that those are impacting the brain as well. But it strikes me that you’re claiming that only the influences you’re mentioning are impacting the brain. My claim is that both the influences you mention AND the influences I mention are impacting the brain. To reiterate, a CRUCIAL example of things impacting the brain, that 5-times-a-day prayer is high on the list. I often hear apologists claim things like culture, but deny the impact of this extraordinarily repetitive prayer. You cannot have it both ways. If culture has an impact, so do those friggin’ prayers.

no-pro:

When you say the rest of the book makes it clear who has earned God’s wrath I assume you are referring to Jews and Christians? I don’t think the rest of the book makes it abundantly clear that this is how to interpret who has earned God’s wrath at all. I think this is another example of you selectively remembering passages that confirm your interpretation and totally ignoring passages that offer different interpretations or contradict your own.

Humans are pattern matching, puzzle solving machines. We are driven to connect dots. If you say that prayer 5 times a day and you are also exposed to other passages in the book, you WILL connect those dots. Are you really claiming that the average mosque-attending Muslim doesn’t know who god is angry at?

Further, Muslims are endlessly told that the book is perfect. As you well know, defenses of Islam often hinge on single occurrences of an idea. For example the “there is no compunction in religion” verse is cited endlessly. Given that context, and the large number of times the book explicitly mentions Christians and Jews, it’s not valid to claim I’m being “selective”. It’s in the friggin book over and over again.

What I experience apologists do over and over again is to construct over-wrought defenses on scripture. That approach is really over-thinking it. Can you really say with a straight face that somehow we can explain away the 500+ occurrences in the book of criticizing non-Muslims? I often hear apologists claim that instance 1 has this context and instance 2 has that context and instance 3 yet another… all the way to number 527. While that might be true when one is looking at the book with a microscope, it completely misses the bigger picture. Human brains - once again - are adept at seeing patterns. The Quran’s huge emphasis on denigrating the “others” cannot seriously be dismissed.

no-pro:

So, my goal in the above is not to counter an anti-Semitic version of Islam with one that is more favorable towards Jews and claim that the latter is “real Islam”, but, rather, to point out that passages like the above do not interpret themselves, their meaning is not transparent, and how they are interpreted will always be influenced and informed by the cultural context of the person doing the interpreting.

Again, your arguments are fine in the context of mind-oriented scholarship. But they fail common sense tests of parsimonious readings. I’m not criticizing scholarly research, it’s fine. But in my experience, religious scholars refuse to talk about learning theory, indoctrination and such.

no-pro:

So, if you want to understand how Muslims interpret the Quran you can’t just read the book, come up with some interpretations that seem right to you, deduce other things that you think follow from those interpretations, and claim that you have derived the “central ideas of Islam.”

When it comes to understanding how a human brain will understand the book, of course you can. What on earth are you talking about? (I suspect we’re back to the brain vs. mind thing again?) Remember, the context of these claims is that Muslims claim and staunchly defend the perfection of their book. They cite it endlessly.

no-pro:

Yes, and I assume the Imam does not just read the passages without commentary but also offers some commentary based on their religious schooling which is in turn based on the interpretive traditions that have been handed down through the history of Islam? And the listeners make sense of the ambiguous passages that they hear - and the words of the Imam - by drawing on their cultural knowledge, other passages in the Quran, other Islamic texts they have read, discussions they have had with friends and family, and so on?

Yes, their minds are probably doing just as you say. But their human brains have a different agenda. Again, the designers of this book were brilliant. you get well-intentioned Imams to keep reinforcing the indoctrination and propaganda endlessly. So let’s way we have a forward thinking, tolerant, modern Imam giving a lesson. What he probably doesn’t understand is that he’s talking not only to the minds he thinks he’s talking to, but to human brains which he probably knows almost nothing about. A sort of typhoid Mary situation played out over and over again for the last 1400 years.

no-pro:

This is why it is necessary to understand all of this background context, to the limited degree that we can, if we want to understand something like Islam.

It’s only necessary depending on your goal. If the cognitive science is true, then the cultural stuff - no matter how you interpret it or how much weight you try to give it - doesn’t actually matter that much. I applaud anyone who wants to understand the cultural stuff - sincerely. I’m interested in the learning theory and the cognitive science aspects.

I think one other idea is important. Humans are complex machines. Like any complex machine, 99% of it can be working just right, and the failing 1% can scuttle the whole shebang. Likewise, even if all the cultural stuff is hugs and rainbows, the indoctrination and propaganda stuff is malignant.

 
 
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23 March 2019 19:43
 

I think we probably should wind this up. You are systematically misunderstanding the points I am making. I don’t think you are purposely misintepreting me but you seem to be interpreting everything I say through this image you have of the liberal who is out to defend Islam as a “religion of peace” and explain away all the mean stuff. I can see that if we are going to keep going down this road I am going to be spending most of my time clearing up these misunderstandings and I don’t think I want to devote the energy to that.

I will try to succinctly clear some things up from your last post and then, if it seems like we are just going in circles, I recommend we wrap things up.

I think we’re both talking about approaches that use empiricism.

I don’t think we are. I am talking about trying to understand Islam by understanding what actual Muslims believe, how they practice, what they have believed through history. If it turns out that actual Muslims believe Jews and Christians are non-believers who deserve death then so be it. The point I am making is that you can’t know whether this is what Muslims believe by reading the Quran alone in your room, deciding what you think it means, and what seems obvious to you, and then claiming that your interpretation represents the “core of Islam.”

That is not an empirical method and I think your recourse to cognitive science is a way of avoiding the need for any empirical contact with reality. You can say “Well, it doesn’t really matter how Muslims have interpreted the Quran through history, what their daily practices are, and so on, because my interpretation is the one that is effecting their brains.” But the effect that reciting a bunch of words has on our brains is determined, at least to a large degree, by the meaning we assign to those words, so you can’t know what effect reciting those prayers have unless you know what the words and phrases mean to practicing Muslims and to know that you need to actually look at the world.

And “looking at the world” does not mean collecting isolated pieces of data and newspaper clippings about Muslims being mean.

Or I can make that claim based on overwhelming historical and current evidence. Which is how I’m approaching the claim that it’s a totalitarian ideology, based on a metric s#it-ton of evidence.

Your interpretation and selection of the evidence is just as distorted as your overall view of Islam. You are essentially just gathering newspaper clippings and isolated pieces of data (which I think you often misinterpret) that support your view of Islam.

As for cultural influences and the like - yes I agree that those are impacting the brain as well. But it strikes me that you’re claiming that only the influences you’re mentioning are impacting the brain.

No, I have never claimed that cultural influences are the only influences impacting the brain. I am claiming that even the effect that reciting a prayer has on the brain is at least partially determined by the meaning assigned to the words which is at least partially determined by cultural context. So, even the effect that the prayer has on the brain, which I don’t deny, is mediated through culture.

Are you really claiming that the average mosque-attending Muslim doesn’t know who god is angry at?

No, I am simply claiming that you don’t get to decide, based on your own interpretation, who Muslims believe God is angry at. Muslims decide that and if you want to form an accurate view of Islam you need to base your view of what Muslims believe on what they actually believe and not what you say they should believe based on your reading of the Quran.

Given that context, and the large number of times the book explicitly mentions Christians and Jews, it’s not valid to claim I’m being “selective”. It’s in the friggin book over and over again.

You are being selective because not every mention of Christians and Jews in the Quran is negative. The passage that I cited, which is one of the passages that is used to support the claim that the first surah is referring to Jews and Christians, does not support a blanket condemnation of Jews and Christians. You are the one reading against the grain to achieve that interpretation. There are also lots of passages in the Quran that specifically make mention of those who have “gone astray” that make no mention of Jews and Christians. You are also being selective by ignoring those passages.

Read the section “The Quran on Jews in its Historical Setting” here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antisemitism_in_Islam#The_Quran_on_Jews_in_its_historical_setting

Even Wikipedia is far more nuanced than the view you are presenting.

What I experience apologists do over and over again is to construct over-wrought defenses on scripture. That approach is really over-thinking it. Can you really say with a straight face that somehow we can explain away the 500+ occurrences in the book of criticizing non-Muslims? I often hear apologists claim that instance 1 has this context and instance 2 has that context and instance 3 yet another… all the way to number 527. While that might be true when one is looking at the book with a microscope, it completely misses the bigger picture.

No, I am not saying that you can dismiss occurrences criticizing non-believers. I am not sure how you could have reached that interpretation of my views based on what I wrote. I am claiming that the concept “non-believer” is under-determined (it does not necessarily mean “non-Muslim” which is why I have altered your phrasing a bit). I am not trying to offer my own interpretation of what “non-believer” means, one that is more friendly and tolerant. I could no doubt engage in verbal gymnastics to show that it is possible to interpret “non-believer” in a way that would not imply any intolerance for other religions or even atheism but I am not interested in doing that if no actual Muslims interpret the passages in that way.

I want to know how actual Muslims interpret the passage and for that I can’t just decide what I think the passage means. I think if you study the history of Islam you will see that the interpretations vary a great deal based on time and place. I just object to your assertion that the interpretation you came up with alone in your room represents the “core of Islam.”

But they fail common sense tests of parsimonious readings.

What you consider “common sense” is a result of your own hermeneutic context. What you consider a “common sense” reading or interpretation is not necessarily the same as what an Afghan peasant, who grew up listening to his family sing Sufi poems on the farm, or what an Arab nomad in the 12th century, would consider common sense.

I think the difference between our views might boil down to this: You seem to think it is possible to read a passage from the Quran and just provide a completely literal interpretation that is not effected by your particular context. I do not think that is possible, and from what I understand about cognitive science, I am right.

When it comes to understanding how a human brain will understand the book, of course you can. What on earth are you talking about? (I suspect we’re back to the brain vs. mind thing again?) Remember, the context of these claims is that Muslims claim and staunchly defend the perfection of their book. They cite it endlessly.

What exactly in learning theory or cognitive science makes you think that you can deduce what actual Muslims believe by sitting alone in your room and deciding what you think the passages in their holy book mean?

[ Edited: 23 March 2019 20:00 by no_profundia]
 
 
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